Singer, actress, and producer Josie Ho is certainly one of the most influential and referential female figures in all of East Asian Cinema. Her acting career began in 1994, and has since included dozens upon dozens of roles in TV and film, eventually expanding to the role of film production as well with her company 852 Films — which she co-founded with Andrew Ooi and her husband Conroy Chan.
A creative powerhouse and a businesswoman alike, Josie’s long list of accolades and multifaceted endeavors earned her a spot on Forbes’ 20 Most Intriguing Billionaire Heiresses list. Today, with more films, acting roles, documentaries, and music on the way, she continues to solidify a legacy that’s impossible to ignore.
Mesmerized by her undeniable talent and hard-working nature, Flaunt had the opportunity to bring our readers a one-on-one with Josie Ho about her ongoing projects, her musical side, and even her painting hobby among many other things.
Talk about your most recent film role as Queenie in Janell Shirtcliff’s Habit, more specifically about the upcoming new version of the film and why a recut is happening.
Hello, Flaunt! I’m so nervous right now because I’m such a fan of this magazine. I’m so honored and it’s such a pleasure that you’ve noticed my work as Queenie the “quirky and fake crazy killer” in the worldwide version of the film Habit. I feel that I’m lucky to have received the role because after all, I have portrayed many psychos in films before. One of them was in a film called Dream Home where I brought home Miller Actriu, the most prestigious Sitges Film Award from Barcelona.
Queenie in Habit is a fresh type of psycho killer with a tweak of wilderness. She has a precious cause, and is deeply in love with her husband Johnny who died. Queenie is all about completing her dead husband’s mission. The character doesn’t allow herself to be bullied by anyone, even by the early 70’s Hong Kong Mafias. As an anti-heroine with a bit of offbeat humor, she was on her path in search of her disappearing husband… then she ends up on her first journey to Los Angeles where an explosive plot begins. And by that, I mean it’s a fun, hilarious and super quirky film. My role is both peculiar and psychotic due to the brilliant script by Suki Kaiser.
The upcoming worldwide version of Habit which I also produced with my Hong Kong company 852 Films Ltd was such a blast!!! The experience was like West and East really meeting each other with a playful collaboration all thanks to director Janell Shirtcliff who contributed some fresh colors and dynamics. There is a difference between the two versions of the film. In the new worldwide version, we had director Wong Kar Wei’s editor/art and costume master, William Cheung Suk Ping, develop a new cut.
You get to experience the re-cut as an actress, but you’re also a producer yourself. How do you experience it from that point of view?
As an actress, having shot so many dramatic scenes for the film that ended up on the cutting room floor in the first director’s cut is a bit depressing. Luckily, for the international cut, my scenes remain intact within the film which made my character development much more complete. Now this international version of Habit starts and ends on a quirky and wild note. Thank you to William Cheung Suk Ping for gracing his cut to the film. William is a world renowned“Golden Scissors recipient at Cannes Film Festival. He used to be the art director, costume designer, clothing designer as well as an editor for Wong Kar Wei’s films and Stanley Kwan films, so 852 Films are on our knees for his advice.
I guess as a producer, we’re so glad to help with the film’s post-production, sound effects, music, and color corrections. It feels like my baby is finally receiving some acknowledgment in public. We’re so appreciative and honored by the 3 film festival nominations by the Madrid Indie Film Festival, Barcelona Indie Film Festival and Budapest Film Festival – what a positive note!!!
Speaking of producing movies, you are a co-founder of 852 Films, boasting a long list of productions since the mid-90s. I hear you’re developing some comedies right now?
Oh yes! Thank you for bringing that up. I’m the founder of 852 Films, but my husband who’s also a producer of the company came up with the name 852. What a name in the world now as 852 is the area code of Hong Kong. Thank you for staying tuned to 852 Films since we’re now exploring some comedic films and characters. In the film Habit, I mentioned that I got offered a quirky villain role — which in the end after wardrobe/hair and makeup test, I’ve discovered that the costume designer had created a comedic role for me which I love! I remembered that I treated the costume with much respect because most of the wardrobe concept came from our costume director and some of our art direction crew. It was such a sweet gesture of theirs as I had really appreciated their choices. I believe Janell Shirtcliff, our director, also had lots of input in my character’s outfit. These efforts that happen in an indie film are the most heart-warming. Plus, I got to learn a few things referring to where the stylist clothes came from.
I’m quite touched that we can finish most of the films we’ve had in our plan. 852 is a type of company that digs deep to bring the best to the big screen. To be an actress in the film as well as producer, on the set, I tend to crouch and lay low. Beyond the mask of the character Queenie, I must observe every single heartbeat taking part in the production while also trying my best not to make a fuss. Off set, I’m the toughest critic in the best interest for the film’s distribution, promotion, plus protecting the project through till the end. I’m that kind of a person who puts loads of work into one project. Maybe because of my indie background, I’m always feeling responsible for every department.
So to recap, this second cut which is the official worldwide edit is another perspective by one of the most celebrated editors to expand the best of each role by basically constructing the film into a story about these wild and absurd characters. Speaking of performing with my most adored musicians from The Kills to Gavin Rossdale from the band Bush, I remember meeting with Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince during their tour in Hong Kong. They were such fun people. What Jamie and Alison wore on the set along with Gavin Rossdale was just groovy as hell. We’ve had a really good laugh recognizing each other’s characters as we all became so playful in our scenes. We had such a charismatic cast including Bella Thorne, one of the most up-and-coming actresses today who looked so chill and calm in her role. Finally, Paris Jackson who graced our film with such a slick attitude.
Though perhaps famous for action-packed martial arts films, there’s obviously a lot more to it than that. How do you feel Hong-Kong Cinema as a whole has developed and evolved in recent years?
Hong Kong Cinema in recent years has been transforming drastically due to the changing landscape and cultural shifts. It feels like it has had a reset. It’s wide open for you to create now that there are all sorts of avenues to show your work.
Now that streaming seems to be allowing different countries and circuits to circumvent the traditional Hollywood studio system a bit, it seems like a golden age of cinema comes for well-established film circuits and cultures outside of the U.S. How are you looking to capitalize on that?
In 2002, we were in Cannes for a short film called Tai Tai, which was about a bourgeois wife, the husband, and her lover. That year Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love won Palme O’dor. We were fortunate enough to share the stage with them at the Hong Kong Trade Development Council party being heralded as the only two films to be in competition from Hong Kong. It was a mind-blowing introduction and a massive encouragement for us to go and express ourselves through festival films. We’re so blessed and appreciative to be able to roll and grow with the scene. We feel we’re capitalizing just by participating.
Of course, films are far from your only creative/business endeavor, you’re also a musician. Tell us a little bit about Josie and The Uni Boys and how the project came to be.
Thank you for mentioning my band, Josie and The Uni Boys, from Hong Kong. My band came about supporting me after my failing pop singing career. I went off one note in a big public event and I got fired from my music company in Hong Kong called Capitol Artist. However, my producer now is a friend of mine who encouraged me to join a band for the very first time. It took my ex-drummer who kept us going together in search of the best musicians to jam. We do rock music mostly and have fans to this day. Our formed band has been together for over 10 years now. We’re about to release new songs hopefully in a few months with a concert in Hong Kong by next October.
I read that you go through some rigorous vocal training and you go to great lengths to save your voice for the performance, including not talking at all for extended periods of time. How do you work around this?
I’ve had injuries with my voice in the past. I love my voice so much and I love singing as much as I do performing. I also know that in order to work as an actress, I need a voice too. I’m a voice freak! I’ve practiced singing for more than 35 years since I started when I was 13-years-old, but my voice had begun fading from karaoke, clubbing and even soft hangouts with friends. So in order to preserve my voice, I stopped myself from eating many certain foods that I’m allergic to, which also gave my skin acne. I live more quietly in general now to maintain my vocal cord. No more life, no more visits from friends… Basically, I need my singing voice to be on standby. I’m afraid of germs and bacteria because of my asthma. I need humidifiers too. I kinda feel that I’m so pathetic doing this as I adore people who can party and then sing the next day. That’s why I love Anita Mui, a Hong Kong music Diva from the 90’s.
You had to go and combine music and film by making a documentary. What sparked Finding Bliss: Fire and Ice and when can we see it?
This project started when I first began going to the French Clown Master Philippe Gaulier’s classes. These classes helped me find a world that I’d been searching for with my acting. In the process, I learned about “simple pleasures.” This came to be even more so when I went through a life and death situation with my husband in the hospital. In 2016, when he came out of the hospital, I started putting together this project. Hopefully, you’ll see it on the festival circuit soon!!
l hear you picked up painting as a hobby as well?
Must be the ADD. [laughs] I started getting into art back in high school. I had worked on my portfolio since 9th grade and was meant to go to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) for the class of Space and Interior Design. After sending in my portfolio, I was invited to a full 45-minute interview from my high school’s payphone. At the last moment, Virgin Records offered me an artist deal, so I jumped at the opportunity to sing hence my journey into the entertainment industry. I started to pick up painting again over the last couple of years. With so much more time spent at home it was a natural progression to get back into painting.
What do you find yourself painting most of the time?
I like to flick through fashion magazines and paint them. I’d start off with the magazine image, then paint and transform away. If the public wants to see it, I’ll show it. If not, I’ll just keep it private.